Spring will officially arrive in just less than a month. High school students are busy applying to colleges, and parents of 4-year-olds have to move quickly to get their little ones into limited pre-school spots. It's the time of year when adults fill out applications to go back to school, and impatient fifth graders feel summer will never come.
We all know a good education is vital. In the "old" days, our forefathers wanted to make sure children were literate so that they could read the Bible. Yet, not only is the Word of God hardly permitted through school doors these days, but too many high schools churn out students who know more about condoms than about history or grammar. Parents wonder how to both give their kids a great education and protect their hearts. Happily, an increasing number of education choices have been made available during the past few decades.
After decades of fighting for the right to educate their children at home, home-schooling parents have gained massive miles of ground. In the 1980s, states and education organizations battled against parents who wanted to home-school; today home-schooling is legal in every state, and many states promote home-schooling by offering parents a variety of helps. Cooperative school districts allow students to take selected classes from public schools and even participate in after-school sports. The reporting requirements for home-schooling differ from state to state, but those requirements are spelled out and easily accessible online. There is no longer a single state that absolutely requires parents to be certified in order to teach their own children. The stigma has slowly been worn away, and countless thousands of families are enjoying their God-given rights to raise their own kids.
Thanks to groups like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), new victories are being made every year. On Monday, the Virginia House passed Senate Bill 1547 without opposition, making it possible for home-school students to be eligible for scholarships just like other students. The state needs to develop standards for giving home-schoolers the equivalent of a grade point average for scholarships that require one.
It benefits states to promote and foster home-schooling. Not only do home-school students tend to excel, but students who stay home also free up seats in overcrowded public school classrooms, benefiting the rest of the students.
Home-schooling is not easy. It requires commitment and time and energy from parents and students alike. Home-school co-ops and support groups have sprouted and matured in every state. Some co-ops are simple once-a-month gatherings in which parents connect and take their students on field trips. Some co-ops offer once-a-week science or art or music classes. Some co-ops have become consistent, frequent gatherings in which parents partner up to teach students. Then, there are co-ops like the Christian Family Cooperative, which is like an actual school three days per week. Half the week 150 students meet for morning classes at Christian Family, and the rest of the week their parents fill in the gaps. These types of supports have helped increasingly more parents enjoy home-school as an option.
Not all families are able to home-school due to financial or time constraints. Yet, parents in poor or high-population areas have long sought alternatives to their failing public schools. Charter schools have proven to be a reasonable second choice in many cities. Charter schools are funded by taxes just like regular public schools, but they are freed from a lot of the red tape that hobbles public education. Charter schools operate under a pact – a "charter" – with the local school system. They get the freedom to hire their own teachers and use their own teaching methods, but in return they have to maintain high standards. For instance, a charter school might hire a historian with great communication skills, even if he does not have a state teaching certification. If the charter school fails to produce results, it can be shut down. This increased freedom paired with accountability has allowed charter schools to succeed.
In January, Donna Gundle-Krieg wrote in the Education Improvement Examiner,
"While many charter schools are great, some have been closed for not performing. Doesn't the closing of non-performing schools demonstrate the accountability of the system? Have you ever seen a public school closed for non-performance?"Touché.
Noting the success of charter schools, Bill Gates said in his January 2009 letter from his pro-education foundation,
"If you want your child to get the best education possible, it's actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school."We all know the truth of that statement. We all can think of incredible teachers who gave us a love for the subject matter by the way they taught it. We also can all remember wretched teachers who made every day a droning misery. Charter schools have the freedom to focus on getting great teachers, whoever they may be.
Many parents would love to send their children to private schools. Not only are class sizes smaller, offering teachers more one-on-one time with students, but the family atmosphere of many small private schools promotes tremendous parent-teacher communication. Parents can know exactly what their children are being taught and feel confident that their children's education will match their values. The problem of course is the cost. Public school is "free" and private school is not. There are options, however! Many private schools offer scholarships for low-income students. As the economy tilts, private schools may have a difficult time keeping students and may be willing to make deals with parents determined to find a way.
School vouchers are another option in a few states like Wisconsin, Georgia, and Louisiana. The Supreme Court declared in 2002 that school vouchers were not illegal, freeing states to offer parents vouchers to send their children to private schools when public schools were floundering. To find out what is going on with vouchers in your state, see the links below.
Public Schools Plus
The majority of parents will choose to send their kids to the public school down the road, with a school bus to pick them up in the morning and bring them home in the evening. While some parents are disgusted with their public schools, they still see no workable alternative for their children. On the other hand, many parents believe their local schools are just fine. There are some excellent, dedicated teachers in public schools, and many parents will be pleased with what they are getting with their tax dollars. Despite the NEA, public school teachers and administrators can still have the same values as the parents of the community, and do a great job. Many wonderful public school teachers are just as frustrated with the state of the union as parents are, and should be treated as partners and not enemies.
Still, we live in a confusing world, filled with a flurry of conflicting ideas. Plenty of public school classes are absolutely anti-Christian and promote humanism as a matter-of-fact. Parents need to make sure their kids have a solid Biblical world view and know how to defend their faith when they go to school or college or out into the world. Whatever school children attend, there are many things parents can do to prepare kids for the serious ideological battles they will face as teens and young adults. For instance:
- Turn off the television. You don't have to become Attila the TV Destroyer, but limit the amount of time kids spend in front of a screen.
- Spend time with your kids. Enjoy their company. Learn about them. Let them learn about you. Your kids will be more likely to listen to you if they have a real, warm relationship with you.
- Take the time to help them with school work. This not only keeps you up on what they're studying, but helps them learn the material. If you can't remember how to do algebra, find somebody who does. Encourage your kids. Let them know you're behind them.
- Engage in interesting discussions with your children about important issues. Ask them what they think about sex, about the existence of God, about the morality of throwing somebody off a life boat (for those of you who remember that happy little social experiment). Work through controversies with them so that they can both learn to be good thinkers and also understand solid answers to hard questions. Give them reliable, age-appropriate information. If you don't know the answers to their questions, hunt down the answers with them.
- Read together. After all, with the television off, you need to find something else to do. Read classics. Read mysteries. Pick out books on controversial subjects that interest your kids, and take turns reading while doing the dishes or drawing or putting together jigsaw puzzles.
- Go to conferences. For instance, Summit Ministries offers week-long conferences for both students and adults. The conferences are geared toward helping students know how to defend a Biblical worldview. There are ministries that focus on evolution/creation issues, or the historicity of the Bible, or promoting healthy relationships, or the Christian history of America. Find a ministry that focuses on a subject of interest to your kids, and go learn all you can together.
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:" -1 Peter 3:15
Homeschool Parents Aren't Going It Alone - KnoxNews.com
Homeschool Scholarship Bill Gets Another Unanimous Vote - HSLDA
Nine Lies About School Choice: Proving the Critics Wrong - Center for Education Reform
School Choice In Your State - Friedman Foundation
Are Charter Schools Good For Our Children? - Education Improvement Examiner
Home-Schooling: It's The Teacher Not The School - The Washington Times
Worldview Wars - Koinonia House
State-By-State Laws On Homeschooling - HSLDA
Summit Ministries: Conferences - Summit.org